Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Matteo's Dream Playground in Concord

This special playground was designed for a boy named Matteo who is blind and wheelchair bound, and other's like him. It is intended to be accessible to children of all levels and abilities. While I doubt all children could utilize all the features, there does seem to be something for everyone here. There are traditional swings, climbing structures, and stairs, but also a lot of ramps, and musical pipes to bang, and some open space.

One feature to note is a sprinkler area that children activate by pushing a button. This caught me off guard at our first visit, but now I know to bring along a towel, or cut the kids off from the water areas enough ahead of time for them to dry out before we leave. On hot summer days though, the water can be wonderful for cooling off.

There is one large covered picnic area that is available for reservation and several other tables that circle the play area. A low fence surrounds the play area and separates it from the tables, although the playground is still visible from the tables. There is also a restroom available.

Matteo's Dream Playground is located in Hillcrest Park at 2050 Olivera Road.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Alpha Phonics, How My Kids Learned to Read

Sticking with the reading theme, since it's time now for Summer Reading Programs, I thought it was past time for a review of the Alpha Phonics reading book. I used Alpha Phonics to teach both my kids to read the summer before they began kindergarten.

Originally, I didn't think I needed a formal reading instruction book. We are big readers in our family. They kids were read to from before birth. Bedtime stories are a ritual, and we read together throughout the daytime as well. Once they knew their letters, and letter sounds, I tried just starting in on some of the very early reader books, like the "Bob Books", and other similar phonics early readers. I believe we were on the third Bob book when I realized that my daughter was not actually reading. She'd been fooling me. She'd look at the pictures, then the first letter or so of the word, and make a good guess. She made it through 2 books perfectly that way. What tripped her up was the word "rag". She read it as "blanket" based on the picture.

That was when I started researching reading programs. So many of them seemed so complicated, with games, and videos, and songs, and. . .oh yes, at last books too. There were some darn pricey ones too. I chose Alpha Phonics in the end because it was simple, and reasonably priced. The Alpha Phonics website offered the first several lessons for free. We used those first, and they went very well. My daughter gained confidence, and since there are no pictures, I knew she could really sound out her words.

The Alpha Phonics book has been everything I wanted in a program for learning to read. Simple, and organized. There is no preparation or extra work I need to do. We just open the book up to where we left off, and work through the next lesson. There are some lessons that are very long in the beginning, and new sounds are repeated over and over for the child to get a good grasp on them. There were usually more than my kids wanted to deal with in a day, so we didn't always do one lesson a day - when we hit those big ones, we just worked thought one page a day instead. We still made great progress, but with less stress.

I still strongly believe that in order to raise kids who love to read, they must live in a house that loves to read. Parents who read to them often, and just as importantly, read for their own pleasure, and let their kids seem them reading do a lot for the child's attitude toward books. But Alpha Phonics has helped us so much too. it made the process of learning to read smooth, natural, and painless. Despite the rather dull appearance of the book, with no flashy colors, and no pictures at all, both of my kids lit up when I pulled it out, ready to work through the next lesson. Although, in all honesty, they both were more resistant in the very beginning, maybe up to around lesson 10 to 15 or so. By then, thought, they had the hang of the program, then knew how it worked, and more importantly, they knew they could do it. It built that sort of confidence in them. It is a program that I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn to read, or to help someone else learn.